LEE O’NELL BLUES GANG – interview
- by admin
- Posted on 18-03-2023
Introduce your band, and describe your latest release:
Lionel WERNERT: Well, I’m pleased to introduce you Lee O’Nell Blues Gang coming from France !
I’m the founder, leader, guitarist and song writer of this 5 pieces Contemporary Blues Rock group. My wife, Gipsy, is the female voice and lyrics writer and you can discover our universe with our 2nd album release. « This is us », is once more a self produced album, co-produced with my friend, my brother of heart Fred CHAPELLIER who is here in France well known as the n° 1 of French Bluesmen. (You can check his discography and discover a fantastic album « Fred Chapellier plays Peter Green » which is to me, the best tribute album to Peter Green…But all of his own albums are fabulous too ! )
Let’s come back to « This is us », released in september 2022. I enjoyed to compose these 14 originals songs in close collaboration with Gipsy. We applied to always mix the musical atmosphere with the depth of the lyrics. We like to play with ambiguities, the extremes that attract or repel each other like 2 magnets…
What’s the hardest part about being a band in this day and age?
Lionel: It’s a paradox for musicians and bands like us. We’re living in the era of communication, social networks which should be a blessing for all emerging artists. Of course, it’s quite easy to make the world discover your music. You think you just have to put your music on all the listening, streaming and downloading platforms so that the whole world has access to it. But it has become a real jungle today because there are so many artists who all use the same way. You have to constantly renew yourself and find a way to be discovered.
Gipsy BACUET: Exactly, you think the world is opening up to you with this huge and easy exposure, but in the end you find yourself drowned among thousands of other bands and it becomes very difficult to get noticed. The multitude of web radios, webzines is a very good thing, but to try to be present everywhere becomes times-consuming, and if you are not lucky enough to have a dedicated team for communication, you become your own press officer and your job as artist is no longer really just making music.
Lionel: And finally, the best way to be known and followed by audience is to play , to make concerts, to be seen live as much as possible. Times are difficult for everybody, organizers are cautious to hire emerging groups because with internet, many people prefer to consume at home watching videos of concerts rather than move around. And if your name is not known and recognized , you just have to arm yourself with patience.Finally this modern world of ultra-fast and impersonal communication takes us back to a time when all that didn’t exist and you just had to play in all the bars and clubs to make yourself known. But that is the deal !
Gipsy: And if as us, you chose to be an independent artist, you have to put all the caps on your head at the same time ! That is the job and the only way t get control of your music.
When did you realize that your project had the potential to be much more than just a fun idea?
Lionel: I knew this project had potential. You know I’ve been waiting for so long before I decided to form my own band. First I was waiting for the right voice, and I found it in my wife exactly what I needed. We met 10 years ago but I waited till 2019 to reunite the best musicians of my area and gave birth of Lee O’Nell Blues Gang.
I’m a self taught child of rock, I grew up with the iconic 70’s groups such as Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Rainbow, Thin Lizzy among others. I studied the Blues legends too: Eric Clapton, Albert King, Peter Green , Eric Gales , Joe Bonamassa and so on. My idea was to mix these genres with a female voice which could be sometimes soft and powerful, feline, jazzy or rocky with sharp riffs, big melodic guitar solos, rock and sticky drums and bass rhythmic and a classical and jazz keyboard . I’ve got the chance to have musicians who are totally dedicated to my music, they trust me and let me compose exactly the songs in the way I want.
Gipsy: And to talk about the potential of Lionel’s idea, it’s simple. He gathered the band in May 2019, and he brought us to the studio in January 2020 to record our first album « Different Shades Of Love » released in September 2020. A sad and devastating pandemic later, he brought us again to studio to record the second album « This is us » in January 2022 !
Lionel is so prolific ! He’s really and hyper active person who have thousands ideas in his mind ! As an example, when we were working and recording « This is us » he was already working for the next one !
Tell us about your latest release, why should we check it out?
Lionel: If like me, you love Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, Gay Moore, Albert King, Eric Gales, Joe Bonamassa, sharp riffs, melodic guitar solos, Hammond sound, 70’s rock touch, vintage sound… you will enjoy our universe.
Gipsy: Someone here in France wrote about us: « Lee o’Nell Blues Gang, the French band that has it all figured out when it comes to putting Rock in the Blues and vice versa » I believe that is a pretty good way to define us. We offer to audience a surprising universe at the same time distinct and coherent going from the swing of 50’s till the rock of 70’s with Lionel’s disconcerting ease and inventiveness.
Lionel: « This is us » is a 14 original songs in which I put an intimate part of me thanks to Gipsy’s lyrics.
How does a song typically come together for you?
Lionel: It depends. Sometimes, the riff and music comes first, and sometimes Gipsy shows me her lyrics which inspire me for a new atmosphere. But the only thing that will never change is that I am the only composer of the band. And as Gipsy loves to play with extremes when she writes, she also likes to tell stories about humans relations, feelings and often with 2 points of view, it’s easy for me to combine different universes or styles in the same song. For example, someday she came with a text about my father who unfortunately died 10 years before I met her. She wrote something like « welcome to the dance of the everlasting tears… », with the idea of a song which would not be too sad or tearful. Well this simple sentence allows me to put a rumba rhythm and harmony in the song which gives it a disturbing feeling in the way you can be after the lost of a beloved parent.
Gipsy: Life inspires me, the different experiences, the good as well as the bad. Actuality or social issues too, and above all feelings. So, sometimes words come easily, and sometimes it’s much difficult. But with Lionel we used to work in close harmony which supposes some heated discussions also ! we are both whole personalities, and we don’t do things by halves. This involves a great deal of work in listening to and understanding the other. A sort of self analysis in a way… And as English is not my native language, I asked some help to 3 very close friends who are fabulous songs and lyrics writers . Leadfoot Rivet, Neal Black and Jade MACRAE, a fabulous Australian soul singer and background vocalist for Joe Bonamassa ! I’m so lucky and grateful to be surrounded by such artists…
How would you describe your sound to an unfamiliar reader?
Lionel: Vintage sound, combined with modernity in the way to compose. I don’t use so much effects, and I have most of all the chance to work with a fabulous amps manufacturer, here in my city. SCRIBAUX AMPS. Kevin Scribaux is a very fantastic man. I can ask him what I want, he will understand and exactly create the amp I need. I don’t know how he can do that, but he is really a wizard !
What do you want listeners to take away from listening to your band?
Lionel: I’d like them to find in our music the energy of the 70’s rock mixed to the wealth of the Blues. I’d like them to want to listen again the track they’ve just listen to, in order to pay attention to another part of the music. I’d like them to keep a riff which has enjoyed their mind at first listening. And I’d like them to want to come back again to see us in concert, because we are definitely a live band, and songs evolve on stage , they grow up each time more and more.
Gipsy: I’d like them to smile all night long, dance and feel free of their worries. It’s a constant exchange. We offer them our universe, they allow them to enter in it, and we share a good moment out of time. I like to think that they can recognize themselves in my lyrics and Lionel’s music.
Where would you really like to tour that you haven’t done so yet, and why?
Lionel: Everywhere out of France ! I really believe our music is an international contemporary blues rock. So USA would be the grall ! But everywhere in Europa too, where the musical culture is more opened and present than in France our so old country ! So: UK, Germany, Belgium, Holland etc….
Gipsy: In France, the Blues Rock culture is very small, and audience for french bands too. They used to put everything in strict and closed boxes like « Blues Roots / Chicago Blues etc… And if you have the chance to be a French band known in Europa, you will be part of the bands to be programmed in France. If not, they consider you not enough good to be part of festivals… You know the symptom of « seen on TV » ! Well in France if organizers read something like « Lee O’Nell Blues Gang, coming back from their first and successful tour in Europa etc… » they will be ok to book you. They prefer to make foreign groups play here than offer the chance to a French emerging group the opportunity to play in their own country ! It’s a bit sad … But may be that is the same in your country for the bands…
How would you say that the sound of your band has progressed over the years?
Lionel: Well, I would not say that our sound has progress. I had an exact sound in my mind which is mine and the one I want Lee O’Nell Blues Gang to have, and I won’t change. We have our identity and we will do our best to keep on that way. But what has progress if I can say, it’s more the difference between our 2 albums. I wanted the first to be recorded in live conditions to show the audience that what they will listen on the CD will be the same on stage. It was a choice that worked pretty good. The second one is more produced in a way, we added some background vocals and more guitars , at the same time to open and fill the musical space. Listen to it and tell me !
How excited are you for 2023, and what can fans expect from you?
Lionel: We are excited to play this year more than in 2022. We will be openers for great bands and artists such as The Cinelli Brothers, or Ana POPOVIC !
Gipsy: And we will start to play in Belgium, which is a pretty good thing for us. Belgium is one of the places to be ! And we are also waiting for a starting tour in Germany !